By Madame X © 2004
When participating in Community gatherings like Quabals, Rituals, Havens, as well as when preparing formal letters of communication, whether online or offline, you may find this code of conduct and manners to be very helpful. These guidelines may vary from dominion to dominion and house to house, but in most cases it has become a tradition within our subculture. Adhering to simple lines of Community Etiquette reflects a certain form of elegance or "bella figura", leaving a lasting impression without being exaggerated, creating a bonding respect which unifies our community. How others perceive us is very important, and our actions must always at least appear to be the "right" thing to do. Moreover, behaving appropriately, especially out of loyalty to family members, friends, hosts or associates establishes/reaffirms our integrity and credibility.
Standards of Behavior
Regardless of your advancement within the community, live as an example to others by reaching out, exchanging ideas, information and support. Be hospitable and appreciative not only to your housemates, respecting the rights of others in a supportive nurturing way. Mind your manners, both in verbal and written communication, your words and actions should reflect your character since your character will certainly be judged by them. Honor and personal pride are critical in our culture; consequently, never insult the honor or personal pride of fellow community members, their families, covens or clans. Do not selfishly abuse but also do not allow others to abuse you.
Most of us are reserved people and as a rule disapprove of loud or demonstrative behavior (except in very informal situations). Traditionally, a certain amount of deference is maintained towards elders and women. Doors are held open and right of passage deferred to elders and women alike.
There should be no ‘play fighting’ or ‘role playing’ in public places or community gatherings. This type of behavior is frowned upon and as such, should be kept private; as should chewing gum and using personal items, such as combs and toothpicks.
It is recommended that Ramkht and Kitra attend events escorted by at least one Mradu. Traditionally, Mradu walk on the left of the Ramkht/Kitra. While the Ramkht or Kitra may have the right of passage (if women or elders), it is customary that the Mradu open doors and lead when entering a narrow hallway, staircase, or when exiting an elevator. It may be considered hostile for a Ramkht to attend a haven or private gathering escorted by a team of Mradu. Mradu should make a point of offering their protective services to the host or presiding elder of the gathering.
Know that there are repercussions to every action, and that you alone are responsible for your decisions.
A very important factor is the art of effective communication. It is important to communicate to the level of understanding of those around us. Poor social interaction skills whether verbal or written, cyber or in-person will certainly reflect badly upon you. To further delve into this arena, review the article written by Bholanath of the Dreaming entitled “Community, Communication, and Leadership”.
It is recommended that at large official functions, guests be announced as they arrive, unless otherwise requested. The formal announcement should be title, nightside name, and place of residence. Interpersonal introductions however may include title, name, household, mentor and place of residence, thus establishing social standing, identity, and points of reference leading to further conversation. Expect to discuss background and interests, to establish your individuality and credibility. Do not however, feel pressured to reveal any personal dayside information. Try not to become too friendly too soon, formality is frequently encouraged.
When introducing two people to each other, you may want to remember precedence - the order in which people are addressed, greeted, introduced, referred, seated and served. Women have precedence over men and elders over the young; if there are two individuals of the same social standing, defer to the one with seniority. When making introductions there are three things to remember:
- Order of precedence.
- Say the most distinguished person's preferred nightside name and title, first, while looking at him or her; and then follow suit with the next in line.
If you are not introduced, it is appropriate that you introduce yourself. It is considered rude to interrupt an embrace or private conversation, so wait for an opening. It is always recommended that you approach openly facing others; a silent approach from behind can be perceived as hostile. When you are giving your title or family affiliation avoid acronyms and abbreviations.
Never reveal your nature to those that will not understand, keeping in mind that it is equally precarious to discuss someone else’s nature, practices or confidences.
Forms of Address
It is considered proper to address individuals according to their formal title as a sign of respect.
Conversely, it is discouraged to use these same titles in normal dayside society, like at work or amongst dayside family; such use of titles may lead to minor embarrassment, or more extreme cases of breech of the Black Veil.
Certainly we do not wish to foster or encourage any type of elitist behavior; only to recognize achievement. Some individuals prefer to abstain from formal community titles and that too should be respected, keeping in mind that it is not the title but the individual that is prized.
The following are some traditional forms of address: "Brother" or "Sister" (generally between members of the same order or household), "Sir" or "Madame" (titles generally used by Calmae or higher), "Lord" or "Lady", “Magister” or "Magistra" (Tiles generally reserved for Community Elders), "Father" or "Mother" (normally Fangsmiths), "Reverend" (Kharrus or Priest/ess), "Matriarch" or "Patriarch" (Elders who founded and maintain a Household or Family).
Regardless of formal titles, the terms ‘Sir’ and “Madame’ are perfectly acceptable during conversation.
The embrace or the exchange of a hearty hug is commonly used as the standard gesture of open welcome; many however employ a solid handshake. As a certain amount of deference is maintained towards women in our community, it is customary for a gentleman to kiss the back of a lady’s hand, in lieu of the simple handshake. Many pagan groups use “Merry Meet” and “Blessed Be” as standard greetings.
Household/Order specific and often secret in-person greetings have been established by many groups to designate members of the family apart from others. They can be as simple as a formalized bow or hug, or as complex as a lengthy dialogue. Households and regional groups are encouraged to design their own specialized greeting symbolizing the groups’ individuality and traditions. This type of greeting, depending on its level of secrecy can either be introduced to you when you first arrive at a gathering, after the official initiation ceremony into an order, or only after attaining a certain level of respect with an order.
When entering a new city, show proper respect by familiarizing yourself with the local community and seeking out the Household Elders. Remember our community is diverse and every city has different traditions, views and hierarchy. Most communities are very cautious, so making a positive impression is the best way to be respected and accepted.
The custom of bringing tribute or a gift to the host of a private gathering, haven or cabal is customary, particularly for first time attendees, or out of town guests. Similarly, a host may chose to recognize the guest with a small token of friendship. Simple gifts reflecting the nature, interests, background, skill or efforts of the guest/host to the community are usually the most appreciated; however a bottle of good wine is always a good substitute. Although an exchange of gifts is a nice opening statement, indicating interest in building a relationship, costly overwhelming gifts can have a negative impact. Simple tokens are the key.
When seeking out the local havens, it is only by respecting the owners and all patrons, as well as by demonstrating discrete behavior, that you can effectively promote a positive image of yourself and our community. Settling private disputes openly or engaging in any unlawful practices will reflect badly upon you and can endanger all of us.
- A good host should be gracious, welcoming and attentive; prepared to see to the needs of the guests, in consideration of their position in the community, by planning for their comfort and entertainment.
- Hosting often includes providing adequate directions and meeting the guests at a half way point, or sending a trusted envoy to meet the guests escorting them to the haven or gathering place.
- It may be considered hostile to insist your guest come alone and to suggest a blindfold when taking them to the haven location. Hosts must consider the secrecy of their haven prior to the invitation opting instead to meet at a different less covert location.
- Some hosts may like to determine their guests’ preference and prepare a screened donor or escort for the guest of honor.
- A host may feel the need to meet with the guest(s) privately before the gathering, to bring them up to date on the local state of affairs or regional traditions. It should be important for the host to insure that the guest will not be caught at a disadvantage.
- A host should never hesitate to call the gathering to a close; a polite way, is to suggest “last call” or “one last night cap” and put the liquor away.
- Overnight accommodations and travel fatigue should be kept at the forefront of the mind when first inviting an out of town guest. A good host will offer their home, plan accommodations with an entrusted family member, or at the very least be able to make a recommendation to a nearby hotel.
- It is the hosts’ responsibility to see that any inebriated guests are taken home safely either by the host, an entrusted family member, or offered accommodations in the hosts’ home.
- A good guest is enthusiastic, congenial, natural and considerate, treating other guests, hosts, as well as their property, with thoughtfulness and respect.
- In many communities it is considered impolite to decline an invitation to a private family affair, or an invitation to visit a private residence without a legitimate reason (short notice, illness, death in the family, unavoidable trip). Conversely, it is frowned upon to request an invitation, or appear uninvited, to any private gathering.
- It is the responsibility of a guest to familiarize themselves, in advance, with local customs and traditions. Respecting these traditions is a great sign of esteem to the host and their respective community.
- A good guest should be punctual, and never be more than 15 minutes late for any engagement.
- Never travel hungry, feeding on another’s territory can be considered ill-manners to the local denizens; a good guest should ‘feed’ only upon invitation by the host. Never feed in public, this should be conducted privately.
- If you have been invited to a dinner gathering, it is important that you discuss any dietary restrictions you may have. At a small private affair it is perfectly acceptable to suggest bringing your own dish prepared to your needs; however, if it is a formal public dinner you might have to decline the invitation.
- When dinning, it is recommended to show respect by waiting for the elder, or the host, to start their meal before you start yours. Common table manners are applicable – it is considered rude to season food before tasting it, eat gluttonously, speak in mid chew, reach over someone else, yawn, and walk away from the table before the host/elder. Avoid messy finger foods unless it is a very casual gathering.
- Do not drink until a toast is offered by the host, or until you are given the invitation to begin.
- It is considered rude for a guest to become deliberately intoxicated at a private affair. Guests should refrain from any kind of belligerent, insulting or argumentative behavior, as it will embarrass the hosts, soil your image and spoil the evening for all others.
- It is impolite to extend the duration of your stay past the host’s invitation, and it is also impolite to ask the host to extend the invitation to someone else; if you cannot attend because of a third party, indicate such, and the host may extend the invite without your direct prompting.
- Official household gatherings, affairs in private homes or overnight stays require a return invitation; conversely, invitations to functions where one pays to attend carry no ‘return’ obligations. Even if you refused a private gathering invitation, you are still expected to return the invitation (not necessarily in kind) in the not-too-distant future, as the host has demonstrated the intent to entertain you.
- When a party is given in someone’s honor, the Guest of Honor should be the first to leave. It is customary for the honoree to send tribute or a gift to the host before or after the party; a public verbal thank you is encouraged and a follow-up phone call or correspondence the next day is always welcome.
Many times your invitations will include a ‘dress code’ request. This dress code should be adhered to, or you may pay extra at the door, embarrass yourself and the host, or not be allowed in at all. Appropriate attire is always expected, whether wearing formal or casual attire, everyone will feel more at ease with guests who show the same degree of attention to appearance. Traditionally your attire will be perceived as a reflection of your creativity, social standing and relative success. It is always recommended that when attending social community functions to wear any jewelry that may help identify you as a friend/member of the community or your affiliation; i.e.: the BloodLines pin, the bladed ankh, or your household insignia. Below is an explanatory list of common dress codes.
Casual – Is the most relaxed attire. T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, caps and shorts are welcome. This is the perfect attire for an outdoor or high activity event or gathering.
All Black Minimum – Requires that even if you wear casual attire that you choose the color black. All Black Minimum implies that you should wear more stylish or scene oriented attire than just casual; this generally implies no baseball caps or casual shorts.
Semiformal – Suggests that men wear a dark suit or sport shirts and black slacks minimum. Women wear dresses or black dress slacks. Do not wear T-shirts, jeans, or sneakers.
Goth/Industrial/Fetish – Recommends that you wear attire that reflects the Gothic, Industrial or Fetish aesthetic. Passionate colors with long sweeping lines, laces, buckles, rivets, platforms or pointy shoes and daring designs are some ideas to incorporate. Individuality is the key, regardless of gender.
Dress to Impress – Suggests that you dress up, leaving room to be either conservative or fabulous. Elegant dresses for women and dark outfits or suits for men are recommended. This can also be referred to as ‘Cocktail Attire’.
Black Tie or Formal - Implies a tuxedo with a soft shirt and a bow tie with a jacket. Women usually wear long dresses, but a short or cocktail-length dress is acceptable.
White Tie – Is the most formal eveningwear, suggesting: white tie, wing collar, tailcoat and top hat. This is perfect attire for official diplomatic occasions, and private balls. For a woman this indicates that a long formal gown should be worn, gloves and fans are invited. Think ‘Victorian’.
Masque/Fantasy/Cyber – This is the perfect time to explore your creativity. Masques, bold colors, feathers, wings and glow-in-the-dark piping are just some ideas. Think: MardiGras, Tolkien and Geiger.
The words ‘optional’ and ‘invited’ can follow a certain type of dress code; this means you do not have to adhere to the dress code, but it gives you an idea of what to aim for and what the majority of the guests will be wearing. You can certainly bring it up or down a notch, but it is always recommended that you do not stray too far from the invitation. Sometimes there is no dress code remark, when in doubt ask your host.
Despite of our most focused efforts to follow community rules of etiquette and standard protocol, there will unfortunately always be miscommunications and misinterpretations leading to conflict between individuals and households that can become community-wide issues. Regardless of our nature, orientation, practices and interests, the Community at large is our extended family; we must respect each others’ ideologies, traditions and values.
It is vital that differences be settled quietly among one another, seeking out an elder’s mediation when there is no other solution. Before challenging another of your kind always contact and obtain the support of your mentor. Elders are the cornerstones of our society, we must heed their counsel; failure to do so may have serious repercussions. When a community member faces punishment for actions he believes he did not commit, he may request a tribunal of elders. Any exiled or excommunicated individual is not permitted to join another family; if another household accepts this individual, they may invite undesired hostility from the family which initiated the exile, as well as others.
Struggles between families are unfortunate inevitabilities of our community, but it is possible for different families to co-exist, even in the same territory, as long as there is mutual respect of each others’ traditions.
Do not make any community dispute public, nor allow such disputes to cause strife. Similarly, it is inappropriate to make any personal issues a community matter or to force others into any situation by making them take sides.
There should always be an effort made to present stability and unification even when things are less than perfect.
It is certainly not expected that every community member behave in every such a way, as we must account for individual personalities and backgrounds. Yet, I do hope you find these recommended guidelines to be a good reference, and I welcome any suggestion or additions to this article.
I would like to thank Father Todd of House Sahjaza, Michelle Bellanger of House Kheperu, Lord Stefan of House Phoenix Resurectus, Bholanath of the Dreaming and of course Emily Post, for their own writings on standards of behavior.